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A Lack of an Enforcement Hearing Triggers a Reversal of a Purchaser’s $170,000 Damages Award

If your business is in the position of defending a commercial litigation action, there may be a variety of ways advance that defense, some of which are rooted in the law more than the facts of your case. You may, for example, be able to assert that the trial court lacks the jurisdiction to give the plaintiff the relief it seeks. You may also be able to oppose an award of damages on the grounds that the court did not hold a required hearing. Whether your defenses rely primarily upon legal arguments, procedural assertions, factual arguments or all of the above, it is important to make sure that you have skilled South Florida commercial litigation counsel advocating for your business interests.

A dispute over a sea vessel spawned a commercial litigation action that recently came before the state appeals court in West Palm Beach. The seeds of this dispute were sown in a contract for the construction of a sport fishing vessel. The manufacturer began building the craft, but never finished it. Still with no boat, the entity that had commissioned the craft sued for breach of contract, among other claims. While the lawsuit was going on, the purchaser and the manufacturer, without counsel, executed a settlement agreement. The settlement called for the manufacturer to purchase the incomplete craft “as is/where is” from the purchaser for $200,000.

The manufacturer paid the purchaser $30,000 but never paid the remaining $170,000. That non-payment was the basis for the money damages that the purchaser sought. The trial court was persuaded and entered a judgment for the purchaser in the amount of $170,000. The manufacturer appealed the verdict. It argued that the trail court did not have jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement because that contract “did not support a money damages award.”

The appeals court ruled in favor of the manufacturer, making two essential conclusions to arrive at that decision. The first conclusion was actually not favorable to the manufacturer, as the appeals court concluded that the trial court clearly did have jurisdiction to award the purchaser $170,000 in money damages. Florida law is clear that, even if the remedy the plaintiff seeks in a lawsuit is “outside the scope of the remedy sought in the original pleadings” – such as the money damages the purchaser sought in this case – a court retains jurisdiction to enforce the terms of a contract when that agreement is incorporated into the court’s final judgment.

Secondly, though, the appeals court stated that the trial court was required to hold an enforcement hearing before awarding the money damages to the purchaser. While the trial court did continue to have jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the two sides’ settlement agreement, that jurisdiction was narrower than what the court had possessed in the underlying case. That limitation of the scope of the trial court’s jurisdiction necessitated the requirement of an enforcement hearing.

Because the manufacturer was entitled to an enforcement hearing and it never got one, it was entitled to a reversal of the judgment of money damages. The case was remanded back to the trial court to hold that hearing.

For effective representation upon which you can rely to get you the results you need, contact the skilled South Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman. Our experienced team has been helping clients protect their business interests for many years.

Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you.

More blog posts:

When Is a Contract Provision Unenforceable in Florida and How Does the Law of Severability Apply to Cases Like This?, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Oct. 1, 2018

How the Optimal Use of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure Can Benefit You in Your Commercial Litigation Case, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Aug. 2, 2018